"SOJOURNER TRUTH STRIDES THROUGH AMERICAN HISTORY LARGER THAN LIFE": RARE VINTAGE CARTE-DE-VISITE PHOTOGRAPH OF SOJOURNER TRUTH, CIRCA 1882, ONE OF HER VERY LAST PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAITS
TRUTH, Sojourner. Carte-de-visite photograph. (Detroit: Randall, 1882). Vintage albumen print mounted on ivory card stock, measuring approximately 2-1/2 by 4 inches with printed caption. Floated and window framed, entire piece measures 7-1/2 by 9 inches.
Exceedingly rare carte-de-visite photographic portrait of Sojourner Truth, taken by Detroit photographer Corydon C. Randall in one of three sessions from June 1881 to April 1882, one of the very last portraits sanctioned by her before her death in 1883, an unforgettable image that captures Truth in a pensive moment, gazing directly at the camera with luminous resolve. Containing her trademark printed caption and name below the image; copyright printed on the verso.
"A legend in her own time, Truth's indomitable will has won her a permanent place in American history" (Blockson 29). That crucial status notably includes her early embrace of photography as both assertion of identity and a political tool. "Like Frederick Douglass, she knew how important its invention was for a society attempting to redefine the status of Black men and women." At the outbreak of the Civil War, Truth also seized on it to help support her lecture tours and her work with freed slaves, often relying on "the sale of her cartes-de-visite [CDVs], her songs and her books" to support her activism. As in so much of her life, Truth became "the strategic author of her public self and her photographic portrait" (Grigsby, Enduring Truths, 12, 59, 15).
This exceptional CDV of Truth is, in many ways, one of the most intimate and beautiful of all her photographic portraits. It would have been taken at the Detroit studio of photographer Corydon C. Randall from June 1881 to April 1882. Although then in her 80s, poor and often ill, she continued to tour, delivering her "very last speech… on June 8, 1881, at the Michigan state legislature in Lansing, where she denounced a bill to institute capital punishment." Only five days later she "traveled almost 100 miles from Lansing to Detroit, where she sat for the first of three photographic portrait session at Randall's studio." The year after she sat for her final session with Randall, she died at her home in Battle Creek on November 26, 1883, six weeks after the Supreme Court declared the 1875 Civil Rights Act unconstitutional. That decision unleashed the daily brutality of Jim Crow as it imposed new and "widespread segregation of Blacks in housing, employment and public life… [what] historian Douglas Blockman has called 'slavery by another name.' That ruling's sanction of segregation would be overturned only some 80 years later in the 1960s" (Grigsby, 176-84).
Here, in one of the last photographs taken of her, Truth looks directly at the camera with an expression at once weary, yet serenely resolved. Below the image, the CDV contains her printed name and the same printed caption of "I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance," as seen on those from the 1860s, and it shows the copyright date on the verso of "1864," when her first copyright was filed. Here, as in so many aspects of her legacy, "Sojourner Truth strides through American history larger than life" (New York Times). Variants of this highly elusive Randall CDV have been found, likely issued posthumously by Michigan photographers Callen Channing Packard and F.E. Perry, from their unauthorized copies of the Randall CDV. "So conscientious and consistent was Truth's inclusion of her name, caption and copyright on all her portraits made after 1864 (with the sole exception of the Brady card) that we are justified in surmising that Perry and Packard were taking advantage of her death when they eliminated her text and replaced it with their own advertisement and claim to authorship" (Grigsby, 185).
Clear and distinct image, faint trace of foldline. A fine photograph of one of America's most inspiring and influential women.